I've Always Learned Through Parodies

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Armed with a complete lack of knowledge about football culture, I watched the Puppy Bowl last night.  Which was strangely alienating and comforting at the same time.
They had people kissing their dogs in a heart-shaped camera at random intervals, and talk of paws inteference, and all sorts of vocabulary I wasn’t quite sure about.  Clearly, there were jokes aimed at People Who Knew Football, and some of them were just silly puppy gooning about – and I didn’t know enough to make the distinction.  The Most Valuable Puppy is clearly a nod to the football MVP, but how close is the Puppy-MVP aligned with how a football MVP is chosen?
It’s bewildering if you think too hard – and I realized I was thinking too hard, because as a child, I learned most of what I knew about pop culture through parody.
When I was growing up, I read MAD Magazine, which featured movie parodies of films like Barry Lyndon – called “Borey Lydon.”  Now, on one level MAD Magazine, which was aimed largely at kids, was insane to parody a film that was made for grownups and most kids couldn’t even see.  (Let us not even talk about “A Crockwork Lemon.”)  But on the other hand, I read enough of Borey Lydon to know most of what adult America thought of it – it was too long, it was very pretty, it was very boring.  And I had a rough idea of the plot.
Hell, I still haven’t seen Barry Lyndon, but I can tell you basically what happened.
And so I scoured those magazines, learning the rough plots of films, basically acquiring a knowledge base of cinema not through watching VHS tapes or DVDs – which didn’t exist then – but via the way other people made fun of them.
Likewise, I learned a lot about music from Weird Al.  And a surprising reason that I was able to get through Dune after bouncing off of it twice was reading National Lampoon’s Doon, which helped me grok the overall structure of Dune so that I could plow further into it. (And holy crap, Wikipedia has way too much information on Doon.)
So when I’m watching the Puppy Bowl, yes, on one level it’s just an excuse to put cute puppies jumping merrily on each other.  But on another level, I have been taught that parody is a way of cutting down to the vital parts.  You parody the most notable bits, and so you can reverse-engineer a good parody to determine what the essential elements are, and actually use those elements to educate yourself on what the parodied material actually is.  I’ve learned a lot through comprehensive parody, just as I’m certain there are people who only know elements of The Godfather from watching Simpsons or South Park episodes, and so it becomes a weird form of education.
The Puppy Bowl is not the Super Bowl.  But in choosing which gags to use, the Puppy Bowl can tell me what elements of The Super Bowl the fans consider to be important to the experience – so important that they subconsciously expect a gag there.  And so I learn from something meant to produce a chuckle in the already-educated.  I immerse myself in a culture, and in many ways it’s a much more pleasant experience than sitting among a bunch of die-hard fans who want to focus on the experience and not educate.  You don’t feel bad; you just realize you didn’t get a joke, and mark that missed joke as a potential thing to follow up on.
It’s an introvert’s technique, but it’s served me surprisingly well.  And I think it’s largely overlooked as a way of learning.

1 Comment

  1. Sara Harvey
    Feb 3, 2014

    That’s fucking brilliant! I LOVE it!

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